The line “The wind rises, we must try to live” is from a Paul Valery poem that is quoted throughout Hayao Miyazaki’s The Wind Rises, a gorgeous and thought-provoking animated film that Miyazaki, a master of this genre, has said will be his last.
Miyazaki is known throughout the world for his extraordinary animated films, among them Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke and Howl’s Moving Castle. His movies are known for their breathtaking visuals and their moving and inspiring stories. The Wind Rises, very much in keeping with his earlier work, is an inspiring movie that defies easy categorization.
In keeping with the quote from which the film takes its title, The Wind Rises is about a boy who dreams of flying but always has to struggle to realize these dreams in an unpredictable and often violent world.
The story follows Jiro Horikoshi, a real-life Japanese aviator, from his childhood as a bespectacled geek in a small town between the World Wars to a successful engineer who designed many of Japan’s World War II aircraft. As a boy, he is entranced by the notion of planes and flying, and he reads everything he can on the subject, even old National Geographic magazines in English, where he learns about and becomes obsessed with pioneer aircraft designer Joseph Caproni.
In Jiro’s dreams, Caproni takes him for rides on beautiful aircrafts.
Caproni tells him that even if he cannot become a pilot because of his eyesight, he can design and build planes.
Buoyed by this dream, the adult Jiro heads for the university to study. On the way, an earthquake stops the train he is riding and leads to a chance encounter with a little girl and her injured nanny. Jiro leads them both to safety, then goes on to his studies.
After graduation, Jiro gets a job designing aircraft for a large company, where his visionary ideas bring him into conflict with his grouchy boss. He has a friend who supports and encourages him, but his life is lonely until he visits a resort and meets Nahoko, the little girl on the train he had helped. She is now grown up, kind, beautiful and charming, but she suffers from tuberculosis. Jiro, undeterred by her illness, proposes to her on the spot. At this same resort, Jiro encounters a refugee from Germany who gives him an unsettling prophecy about the use to which his airplanes will soon be put and the war and destruction that will come to Japan.
The storyline doesn’t flow the way we expect in a conventional movie and seems to go off on tangents that become relevant toward the end. In a sequence set in Germany in 1932, when Jiro visits a German aviation firm that is selling technology to Japan, Jiro and his colleague are treated with hostility and racism. This incident presages World War II and the Holocaust. Whatever Jiro experiences on his journey through life becomes part of the story, whether it is a glimpse of hungry children in a city or thousands of unemployed workers streaming toward railroad tracks.
The message of the film is that through his magnificent obsession with creating a streamlined aircraft, one he knows will likely be used for warfare, Jiro is trying to connect to an otherworldly beauty that he can never attain, and that there is something heroic in his devotion to his ideal. The real world of ugliness and failure threatens him at all turns, but he remains true to his dreams.
Although the pacing of the film is odd, the images are gorgeous, and they say more than the dialogue. Even if you are not fascinated by aviation or flying, you will be captivated by the breathtaking beauty of the film’s visuals. Miyazaki is celebrated for the detail as well as the sweep of his drawings, and The Wind Rises may be his most beautiful film so far. Let’s hope that it isn’t really his last.
THE WIND RISES
Written and directed
by Hayao Miyazaki
Hebrew title: Haruach Ha’olah
2 hours, 6 minutes
In Japanese, with English
and Hebrew subtitles